And they still have three holes – and two par 5s – to play in Round 3 after two lightning delays halted play at the K Club. (Golf Channel will provide live coverage beginning at 6AM ET.)
“Hopefully I can take advantage of those [par 5s] and get a couple of birdies,” McIlroy said as he walked off the course.
He started the day one stroke behind Willett and Marc Warren, but the final pairing quickly faded. Willett played the front nine in 2 over par, while Warren blew up with a 5-over 40.
McIlroy, the tournament host, took advantage and built a two-shot lead as he made the turn, but then lightning suspended play for the first time. When play resumed, McIlroy knocked in a short birdie putt at the par-4 10th to extend his lead to three strokes and made three more pars before more dark clouds rolled in for a second suspension. He got two more pars in before play was called for the day.
''It's disappointing that we didn't get to play the whole 18,'' McIlroy said. ''But it was getting dark out there. I struggled to read my putt on 15 and wasn't really comfortable to hit the tee shot on 16.''
The world No. 3 has played solid this year with six top-10s in 10 events – plus a T-12 last week at The Players – but he has yet to win in 2016. Meanwhile, Jason Day has grabbed on tightly to the No. 1 ranking with three victories, and world No. 2 Jordan Spieth is eyeing his second title of the year across the pond in Dallas.
After making his first cut in this event since 2012, McIlroy is now poised to win his own tournament for the first time, and build some much-needed momentum as he heads into a pre-U.S. Open clash with Spieth and Day in two weeks at the Memorial.